A cold but clear November evening bestowed upon us the perfect weather conditions for Double.LL‘s star gazing debut, and with the expertise of Rob Wells, the promise of an out of this world experience was in store.
Rob, aged 25, moved to Weston Rhyn upon completion of a degree in Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology from Glyndŵr University. He met girlfriend, Lana, whilst studying and she has patiently supported Rob’s passion for capturing the magnificence that exists far above our heads ever since. Indeed, it was Lana who bought Rob his most prized possession (right), his Sky-Watcher Skyliner 200p telescope.
This remarkable piece of kit has something of the Star Wars Stormtrooper about it – all gleaming white metal and futuristic. When hooked up to Rob’s laptop with its state-of-the-art starfinder software, it offers ample opportunities to develop his skills in exploring the spectacular night skies and reproduce extraordinarily impressive images.
“Without getting too technical, I just wanted to capture those scenes,” he says, adding with disarming humility, “I don’t think of myself as incredibly skilled in that aspect and I wouldn’t say my photographs are of the same standard as some images produced by others. It’s just something I thoroughly enjoy. I really love seeing how I’ve progressed.”
Reflecting on where his interest in astronomy originated, Rob, originally from Somerset, looks back on his time at school, particularly his A-Level Physics class. “I recall there was a telescope at the back of the classroom that never seemed to be touched,” he reveals. “One day after school during the winter months, our teacher agreed to take us out with it. I have a vivid memory of first peering into the eye piece pointed directly toward the constellation of Orion.”
He was literally star struck. “I was struck by the sparkling blue of Rigel and the contrasting red of Betelgeuse. It was extraordinary. I was completely taken by astrophysics as of that very moment,” he enthuses.
When Rob talks so knowledgeably and passionately of the constellations and galaxies far, far beyond our own, it is utterly transfixing. The naked awe and wonder that punctuates each successful search he plots on his computer is both endearing and captivating.
As he attempts to explain the complexities of capturing images of a distant star cluster like M45, the mystery is a marvel too far for my limited comprehension. But there’s an innocence, a poetry in his attempt to unravel it for me. It’s as if listening to a beautiful, lyrical language… I have no understanding of the words being spoken but the wonderment is contagious.
Rob senses my bewilderment and quickly reassures me that his knowledge has been developed over the years by immersing himself in reference books, heeding advice from others in online forums and being assisted by intelligent software and technology. Suddenly, this nice, kind man makes me feel slightly less dumb. “There’s still so much that I don’t know, I always want to keep pushing myself to learn more, search further and progress,” he professes, with almost schoolboy enthusiasm.
“Something I only recently heard is that simply picking up a pair of binoculars on a dark, clear night can reveal far more than you’d think.” He gestures to the sky. “Most notably, The Pleiades, also known as the Seven Sisters or M45 is a cluster of seven stars often visible to the naked eye on a clear night, although they appear quite dim. But just an ordinary pair of binoculars will bring this cluster in to a much brighter and sparkling focus,” he reveals. It’s true. We tried and tested this assertion and it worked for Double.LL.
“We’re lucky we live in such a great place in the world with such low light pollution. It helps give a clearer view of the night sky,” he explains. “Weston Rhyn is a class four zone on the Bortle scale but going in to the Ceiriog Valley up towards Llanarmon and beyond is even better. Now that’s a class two.” My ignorance gets the better of me once again but Rob is quick to clarify, and I’m eager to learn. “The Bortle scale measures the sky’s brightness by location, the lower the number, the darker the sky in that location, and therefore a more opportune area for astronomers.”
Spending time with Rob whilst he explores the night sky for that killer image is a fascinating and memorable experience; one that has instilled in me a curiosity for that which exists in various galaxies within our known universe.
For those with an embryonic interest in the final frontier and looking to get started in astronomy, whether as a casual hobby, or looking to invest in serious knowledge acquisition in the longer term, Rob’s initial recommendation is to start simple and allow yourself to learn, as he did, with the help of technology and books. “I would recommend the Google Sky app, it’s so clever and useful for allowing you to get your bearings and figure out what it is you’re looking at,” he advises generously.
“Secondly, Turn Left at Orion is a book that guides and directs you specifically to galaxies, nebulae and clusters. It’s like the ultimate ‘Astronomy for Dummies’ guide, equipped with masses of information and tips.”
As the evening prematurely comes to a close due to the unexpected appearance of cloud cover that obstructs our view, Rob tells me of a new personal challenge he is tasking himself with. “I’d love to get a picture of the space station passing in front of the moon,” he confesses. “It will most definitely be a struggle as it travels unbelievably fast but perseverance is key. I’m really setting my sights high… Literally.”
As for me, I’ll be in the back garden with a pair of binoculars, the Google Sky app and my new-found knowledge, albeit limited.